Why I'm Proud To Be Singaporean

by Jerrold Soh | Jan 16, 2014 | 33508 views

It’s not every day that life throws you actual scenarios which let you practice the rarely useful (or so you thought) things you learn in school. But today was such a day.

As this video (I've outlined the gist of it below, so you don't have to watch it) continues to win the hearts and minds of the uninitiated, I thought it would be meaningful to use this opportunity to illustrate how one might do a proper AQ, and why GP is highly underrated.

Note that this article, in the spirit of the AQ, is meant only to critique the points and arguments made in the source. Critique means to support and to criticize, where warranted. It is not meant as a personal attack, nor can it ever hope to address and solve any social problems raised by the video.

I am also aware that, as the “truthful”, “interesting” and “right” person that many commenters laud her to be, the speaker could not have intended her points to be subject to any form of academic, logical, or common sense scrutiny and yet left so many of her arguments painfully incomplete. More likely the video was meant as an expression of her own opinions and thoughts, made only more personal by her choice of presenting her ideas from the intensely private space of her own bedroom.

Hence, it might be slightly unfair for me to apply her arguments through the razor of logic, since it was neither intended nor prepared for it.

Nonetheless, I will do so. As the speaker says, “Deal with it”.

In the 13 minutes long video which you would likely have watched, the speaker makes these points in support of why she is not proud to be Singaporean:

1. Singapore is no place for an Artist.

The speaker begins by arguing that Singapore overly prioritises fields like medicine, engineering and law, since “everyone is going towards” these areas “because those are the highest paying jobs”. Because of this, there’s “barely any room” for alternate career paths.

The premise that “everyone” only does medicine and law is difficult to defend, because, unfortunately, only a small number of people actually get to do these high paying jobs. A more realistic argument would perhaps include finance, business, and other alternate careers. Yet if we were to restate the argument more accurately as “everyone is going towards medicine, engineering, law, finance, accountancy, biotechnology, dentistry, and business”, it quickly loses much of its force.

And for the record, not everyone is in these fields for the money.

Admittedly there is an emphasis on sciences to the detriment of the arts, and this is an age-old argument that is difficult to deny. Having been through an Arts education (though of the Humanities kind) myself, I agree that many (often unjustified) obstacles do stand in the way of aspiring musicians and artists in Singapore.

Yet the speaker seems to draw a false dichotomy between the two, as if emphasizing the sciences necessarily compromises the arts. It is, surprisingly to some, possible to encourage people to study medicine while simultaneously promoting the Arts through, for example, building a two theatres in the heart of Singapore’s financial district (specifically the Esplanade and the theatre in Sands). In other words, even if we admit her premise that everyone only does medicine and engineering, it doesn’t by itself prove her point that Singapore has no room for artists. And why should the country make room for you?

A better argument would be that Singapore’s overemphasis on the conventional shines through even in the Arts, where traditional forms of drama and theatre take unwarranted precedence over untested forms like K-POP. But this is not the argument she makes.

2. Singaporeans are narrow-minded.

There is a certain sense of irony in the speaker making this argument that I have to refrain from elaborating on in the spirit of this article. She argues that Singaporeans are narrow-minded because “a majority of Singaporeans would have just bought the headline news that our payment system is better than the minimum wage”. For starters, let’s just accept her definition of “narrow-mindedness” to mean “unquestioningly accepting”.

There are, of course, many strong reasons why a minimum wage may be “better” than a payment system. She offers none of these reasons.

Rather than make any sort of economic argument for or against the two economic policies, she offers a mathematical argument: mainly that an Australian waitress makes $1920 a month and a Singaporean waitress makes $768. Also, “to be fair”, based on the earning to spending ratio (which somehow addresses the difference in living standards), the Australian system is still “better”.

If economic policymaking involves only increasing waitresses’ nominal salaries, then we would truly be overpaying whoever we pay to make these policies. Unfortunately, things are not so simple. Any H2 economics student would be able to recite the problems with minimum wage polices. Amongst these are the resulting fall in employment opportunities and increased business cost. More simply, implementing a minimum wage means restaurants will hire fewer waitresses. So even in terms of making it better for waitresses and waitresses alone (how she seems to define “better”), a minimum wage may not do its job. A minimum wage would only be “better” if its benefits outweigh its costs.

Admittedly again, we should not expect everyone to be educated in economics. But that does and will work against you if you choose to make an economic point. If someone stands up and points out that Panadol is useless, should he be expected to have a medical degree?

By “don’t believe things you see in headline news”, perhaps she means to say “don’t believe things you see in headline news without thinking through it yourself”, because then she makes an excellent point. If I have to consciously disbelief everything in the newspaper, reading it would be a really interesting task.

And for the record, don’t believe things you see on Youtube either, at least not without thinking about it yourself.

3. Singaporeans are not creative.

Her third point is difficult to deny and I would agree that Singaporeans are nowhere near the most creative in the world. A key lesson here is that you can have the best point in the world and your argument can still be invalid.

In support of a point which, frankly, didn’t need to be supported, the speaker argues that the education system stifles creativity. Effectively she argues extensively on the cause of the lack of creativity, without really explaining her main point, the effect of this cause. If she wanted to point out that Singaporeans are not creative, a more direct route would be to raise arguments showing how little we create.

Granted, exploring the causes does lend some indirect support to her arguments. But even if education stifles creativity Singaporeans can still be creative. A more complete argument would have to draw the link between cause and effect.

That is not difficult. Consider this argument:

1) The education system stifles creativity without exception.

2) Everyone goes through the education system and is completely affected by it.

Therefore, everyone’s creativity is stifled.

In place of the drawing the link as in (2), she offers anecdotal experiences from her sisters and herself. There is little need to comment on the appropriateness of such examples (note that this is only because I am assuming this to be some sort of academic piece rather than a Youtube rant. For the latter, it’s entirely appropriate and entertaining.)

The speaker then argues that Singaporeans are just “homework robots” (which I concede) and “being book smart is kinda sad” because you’ll just “be like a majority of Singaporeans”. This argument actually holds some merit because she tried to substantiate why being homework robots is bad in itself rather than merely asserting it is.

Unfortunately, the argument was not effective, primarily because being part of a majority does not necessarily mean something is bad. Nonetheless this sheds some light on why she wants to immigrate, because otherwise being in Singapore makes her just like a majority of Singaporeans (who are, y’know, in Singapore), and that’s apparently kinda sad.

4. Singaporeans are submissive.

Her fourth point that Singaporeans are submissive was succinctly put and left little to be critiqued (which is sometimes the smart thing to do if you have nothing better to say). Still, her argument that “no one thinks out of the box” could have been further evidenced, and why being submissive is itself a bad thing that should make someone ashamed to be Singaporean remains unclear.

5. Singaporeans are not happy.

I am extremely, extremely tempted to bring out that weird study Starhub shows us in cinemas before the movie starts to highlight that Singaporeans actually are happy. But I myself don’t believe that, and again she raises a somewhat valid point.

The problems with her arguments, however, remain. In a rare but laudable attempt to justify why her examples from Australia and Taiwan are relevant, she could have gone further than to say it’s because she knows them best (so deal with it) and she’s only going to base her arguments on these countries. Because that’s akin to saying: “let’s ignore the possibility I could be wrong, alright…just ignore that…and HEY LOOK! I’M RIGHT!”

Of course you are.

Also, since she painstakingly reminds us of her ‘success’ in the K-POP arena, it was puzzling why she didn’t know Korea well enough to know the extreme focus on academics and the beaten path in that country.  She seems rather proud of her associations with Korean culture, which makes it hard to understand why Singapore’s focus on grades makes her not proud to be Singaporean.

Even if we just ignore that¸ her creative use of suicide and murder statistics to show that Singaporeans are not happy is…rather creative. Suicide and depression statistics are indeed commonly used illustrate social issues in Singapore, and they actually do that job pretty well.

While she could have left it at that, she makes a further argument that suicide rates being higher than murder rates shows Singaporeans are not happy. That implies, strangely, that if murder rates are higher than suicide rates, Singaporeans are a happy bunch. By referring to the low murder rates in Singapore the speaker, accidentally I presume, argues against herself by highlighting how we’re happy enough, for the most part, to not kill each other.

6. Singaporeans are not nice.

According to the speaker, Singaporeans are not nice because they wouldn’t help others and Australians, by comparison, would. Here it seems the speaker has already stopped considering herself Singaporean, otherwise her relating how she helped the elderly person into the cab seems to defeat her own argument.

Within the confines of this point she moves on to request that people do not drag her parents in (strange, because she did mention “Singaporean parents” in general earlier on the video) and that she’s an honest person who speaks her mind.

Sadly, you can still lie if you speak your mind, especially if you’re mistaken about facts, or think illogically.

She makes another curious declaration that she “will not be moulded by society’s demands because that is just ridiculous”. In the spirit of this article, I would have to stop at pointing out the inconsistency in the logic that “moulded by society” = “ridiculous” because she is, among the other things she does, speaking English.

7. Everyone just follows the rules. There is no freedom of speech in Singapore.

In an argument, saving the best for last isn't always a good idea because you may have lost your audience by then to the weakness of your earlier points. In the concluding minutes of her video the speaker opens a can of tornadoes by asserting that freedom of speech does not exist in Singapore.

The debate on freedom of speech has lasted, sadly, for centuries. It would not be possible to deal properly with it here. Suffice to say that, if there is no freedom of speech in Singapore, how did she ever manage to upload her video? Perhaps there will be people knocking on her door very soon.

Ultimately, she asserts, and I have to respect, that she has her reasons for not being proud of Singapore. Yes, you are entitled to them, even if they aren’t very good reasons.

She openly asks for reasons why we should be proud of Singapore, to which I reply:

I’m proud of Singapore because, even ESPECIALLY after hearing what you say, I still have no reason not to be proud of Singapore.

More Articles:

It’s (still) Great To Be Singaporean.

2499 views, 60 recommends

Singaporeans Are Not Dumb

6474 views, 141 recommends

More by Jerrold Soh:

Because We Once Wore Green

34004 views, 3523 recommends

Singaporeans Are Not Dumb

6474 views, 141 recommends